George at Arsilica kinda sent me a pair of their new NEAT nosing glasses to test out. I’m a sucker for interesting glassware – I have to regularly restrain myself from taking my scotch as two fingers in a rocks glass, just for the Hollywood of it. Frankly, a rocks glass is demonstrably inferior to any tulip-shaped glass when it comes to concentrating the aromas and allowing your nose to pick up more individual notes than just “alcohol” and “whisky”.
The NEAT glass relies upon a number of scientific facts regarding the behavior of liquid vapor in an open container. Like my favorite Glencairn glass, its tulip-shaped body concentrates evaporated compounds at the narrow ‘neck’. Its squat, bulbous shape provides more surface area for evaporation (thus accelerating the release of volatile compounds and alcohol vapor) when filled to the widest point. Finally, its lip flares out to create an ‘expansion chamber’ to expel lighter-than-air alcohol vapor while leaving the heavier compounds (hopefully the esters, heavier alcohols, and wood extractives) hovering just above the neck for nosing. The company claims that this series of processes allows one to detect more aroma compounds with LESS alcohol burn (sometimes referred to as nose ‘tickle’).
To test out these claims, I gathered a Glencairn glass, a rocks glass (as control), and a NEAT glass. I filled each with an equal amount (about 1/2 ounce) of Ardbeg Corryvreckan. I wanted a powerful, peaty dram to provide lots of fodder for nosing. I also wanted something cask-strength (57.1% ABV) to test NEAT’s claims of lessening the nose tickle. I then allowed the drams to sit for a few minutes to rest. Now, the nosing:
Rocks Glass: Holding my nose directly over the lip of the glass, I smell… a vague hint of peat, a little campfire smoke, and barely any burn. I hold my nose as deep as I can inside the glass (about an inch from the liquid’s surface), and finally there’s some citrus notes and enough alcohol burn to make me back away. As expected, the glass delivers barely any individually discernible notes.
Glencairn: Holding my nose directly over the lip of the glass, I smell some nice oaky vanilla, round earthy peat, and no nose tickle at all. Tilting the glass and holding my nose about an inch from the liquid, I get a tidal wave of citrusy peat, soft maltiness, big caramel and vanilla, and enough alcohol in my sinuses to make me cough.
NEAT Glass: Holding my nose directly over the lip of the glass, I smell a hint of vanilla. No alcohol burn, but not even any peat. Tilting the glass and holding my nose about an inch from the liquid, I get… now this is interesting. There’s no alcohol burn at all. Instead, I get totally unexpected (although faint) notes of tangerine, mushroomy peat, rosewater, and lavender. It seems that the “sweet spot” is a little difficult to find. If I hold my nose ABOVE the glass, I get nothing. If I hold it just inside the rim, I get some faint aromas only. If I stick it in as far as I can (which requires holding my neck at an awkward angle), I get a series of very clear aromas without the usual muddled rush of alcohol and top-notes. It takes a little experimentation to find the right spot.
Conclusion: I’m actually a little confused. The rocks glass, as expected, is worthless. The Glencairn delivers the experience to which I have become accustomed: all of the aromas, big and bold, and a big plug of alcohol vapor right up my nose. It’s easy to get a snoot-full of alcohol burn, but you also get a lot of aromatic compounds in one big integrated jumble. The NEAT glass requires pinpointing the ‘sweet spot’ (which wasn’t where I expected to find it), and then does a surprising job of delivering toned-down but clear and crisp aromas to the nose without the distracting (or amplifying?) waft of alcohol vapor. The experience is actually a little unsettling: I smell vanilla, I smell peat, and I smell citrus, but I don’t smell Corryvreckan.
That brings me to my conclusion about nosing with the NEAT glass: it performs as advertised, but I wouldn’t recommend it in isolation. To truly get the full effect of any dram, you should use a NEAT glass to pick out individual notes… and then use a Glencairn to get the full experience, alcohol and all. That said, if you have a sensitive nose and have trouble getting past the alcohol vapor’s effect, the NEAT glass is tailor-made for you. Get a few of them NOW.
One bonus with the NEAT glass: its wide rim (which takes a little getting used to) does actually spill the whisky evenly over your tongue, thus hitting all parts of the palate at once, rather than channeling all of the liquid to the center of the tongue, where it doesn’t taste like much except alcohol. In this way, it performs better than the Glencairn. Also, note that the letters ‘NEAT’ are etched into the side of the glass. The company is working on a new version with a stem, as well.
I say the NEAT glass is a worthwhile investment for the aficionado looking for a new way to experience whisky, or for the beginner who dislikes the strong smell and burning sensation of strong, straight alcohol.